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Your Guide To Penn State’s Spring 2020 Modified Grading System

As hard as it may be to believe, our first (last?) semester at Zoom University is finally coming to a close.

And as you submit your final assignments and struggle through final exams, you might find yourself checking on your grades for the first time in what feels like forever only to realize they might not be up to your usual standard.

But before you crunch the numbers to find the minimum effort you need to put in this week to get that oh-so-desired grade, do yourself a favor and catch up on the changes Penn State’s made to spring 2020 course grades.

Alternative Grades

Earlier this spring, university officials announced Penn State would give students the option to swap our earned course grades for alternative grades to accommodate the challenges presented by its remote learning period.

Students will have the option to replace earned letter grades in any of their courses with one of three alternative grades:

  • SAT (Satisfactory) — This grade is available if you earn a C or better in a course. SAT grades meet all C or better conditions, including entrance to major requirements and prerequisites.
  • V (Pass) — This grade is available if you earn a D or better in a course and is considered to be a passing grade. You’ll still earn credits for courses with V grades. They can be used to meet requirements for which D is an acceptable grade.
  • Z (No Grade) — This grade is available if you earn an F in a course. Zs can be used to replace Fs and will be treated the same as a Late Drop (LD) grade.

“The plan reflects the possibility that some of you, through no fault of your own, may not achieve the grades you could have if you had attended on-campus classes for the entire semester,” Provost Nick Jones said earlier this spring. “The plan is also designed to minimize impacts to your GPAs and academic transcripts.”

Once final grades are posted in LionPATH, students will have approximately one week to decide if they’d like to employ an alternative grade. However, Penn State hasn’t yet communicated how one would go about doing so. Go figure.

Students will still receive credit for courses in which they receive SAT or V grades. If you opt to swap for these grades, your semester standing won’t be affected, and, most importantly, you’ll still get to (hopefully) purchase football tickets this summer.

Helpful Tools

To get a better idea of how your GPA might be affected by selecting alternative grades (or not!), take advantage of LionPATH’s handy-dandy GPA calculator.

The tool allows students to input their cumulative GPA and current grades to see how they’ll be affected in the long run. It’s pretty useful for planning for the future, especially when an option to have courses not count toward your GPA is readily available.

To access the GPA calculator, log into LionPATH and click “Degree Planning and Progress” on the toolbar to the right side. From there, make your way over to the calculator and get ready for some math (kinda).

First, be sure to input your current cumulative GPA and the number of credits taken so far. Then, add rows for each of your courses, enter the number of credits for each, and current grades for each class.

Upon hitting “calculate,” you’ll find an estimation of your semester GPA and an updated cumulative GPA.

To see how selecting an alternate grade would sway things, change a desired course’s credits to zero and recalculate. This effectively removes that class’ effect on your term and cumulative GPA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are alternative grades mandatory?

Not in the slightest. Unlike some other universities, it’s completely up to students to opt for one of the three alternative grades this semester. Professors can’t force you to take a grade. At the same time, though, students need to be proactive and take it themselves. It won’t automatically happen!

Who’s eligible to take alternative grades?

Alternative grades are available to all undergraduate students at any Penn State campus as well as undergraduate World Campus students and those who are continuing study abroad programs remotely. Graduate students fall under their own modified grading system that differs from undergraduates’ model.

Will alternative grades count toward entrance to major requirements?

Yup. Some academic colleges, including Smeal and the College of Engineering, have already announced how entrance to major credits will move forward considering the modified grading system. Before making the decision, though, it’s probably best to contact an advisor in your academic college just to be sure.

How will modified grades look to employers, grad schools, or law schools?

Well, that’s a tricky question. Penn State advises students considering additional education to try maintaining their letter grades, even if they may lower their GPAs, to keep transcripts intact. However, there’s really nothing wrong with taking advantage of the system provided for you and taking the necessary steps to keep your transcript afloat.

As always, speaking with your academic advisor should help clear up any issues relating to your transcript and your future.

Will alternative grades impact financial aid?

At this time, alternative grades shouldn’t affect students’ financial aid in any way. According to the university, federal and state Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) reviews will continue evaluating credits that are completed vs. those that aren’t. Remember, SAT grades and V grades will count as completed credits, while Zs will not.


As always, reaching out to your academic advisor will help clear up any confusion with Penn State’s modified grading this semester. You can read more about the nitty-gritty details of the alternative grades here.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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